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SAM e, or S-adenosylmethionine supplements have been shown to boost mood and emotional well being, promote healthy joint function and support healthy liver function.
What is SAM-e?
SAM-e, (short for S-adenosylmethionine, also spelled SAMe) is made from the amino acid methionine and ATP. SAM-e is a methyl donor involved in the making of dozens of important compounds in the body.
Until recently, few Americans had heard of the stuff. An Italian firm
developed it as a pharmaceutical in the early 1970s but lacked the will
or the resources to make a run at a drug approval in the United States.
Benefits of SAM-e
SAM-e has been available by prescription in Europe for many years as an antidepressant but has been available over the counter in the US only since about 1996. In dozens of European trials involving thousands of patients, it has performed as well as traditional treatments for arthritis and major depression.
Research suggests it can also ease normally intractable liver conditions. SAMe doesn't seem to cause adverse effects, even at high doses. And doctors have prescribed it successfully for two decades in the 14 countries where it has been approved as a drug.
SAM-e for depression has also been tested in the United States. In 1994, researchers at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center, did a double-blind randomized trial involving a total of twenty-six patients. They compared oral SAM-e with oral desipramine (a pharmaceutical antidepressant). At the end of the four-week trial, 62 percent of the patients treated with SAM-e and 50 percent of the patients treated with desipramine had significantly improved. Similar results were found in a 2002 study when SAM-e was compared to imipramine.
A report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality concludes that SAM-e is effective for joint discomfort. The Arthritis Foundation, a mainstream advocacy group, recently said its medical experts were satisfied that SAMe "provides pain relief" but not that it "contributes to joint health." The evidence that SAMe can repair cartilage is admittedly preliminary, but it's intriguing. When German researchers gave 21 patients either SAMe or a placebo for three months, using MRI scans to monitor the cartilage in their hands, the SAMe recipients showed measurable improvements. Entitled "S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine for Treatment of Depression, Osteoarthritis, and Liver Disease," the report conducted a search of the published literature on the use of SAM-e within several areas and, on the basis of that search, evaluated the evidence for the efficacy of SAM-e. Of the studies measured, 10 were included in a meta-analysis of the efficacy of SAM-e to decrease joint discomfort. The data indicated that "SAM-e is more effective than placebo" and that it was shown to be "equivalent to standard therapy," according to the scientific review.
SAM-e and Homocysteine
SAMe and homocysteine are essentially two versions of the same molecule, one benign and one dangerous. When our cells are well stocked with B vitamins, the brisk pace of methylation keeps homocysteine levels low. But when we're low on those vitamins, homocysteine can build up quickly, stalling the production of SAMe and causing countless health problems. High homocysteine is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. During pregnancy, it raises the risk of spina bifida and other birth defects. And many studies have implicated it in depression.
How, exactly, might taking extra SAMe improve a person's mood? Researchers have identified several possibilities. Normal brain function involves the passage of chemical messengers between cells. SAMe may enhance the impact of mood-boosting messengers such as, serotonin, either by regulating their breakdown or by speeding production of the receptor molecules they latch on to.
SAMe may also make existing receptors more responsive. These molecules float in the outer membranes of brain cells like swimmers treading water in a pool. If the membranes get thick and glutinous, due to age or other assaults, the receptors lose their ability to move and change in response to chemical signals. By methylating fats called phospholipids, SAMe keeps the membranes fluid and the receptors mobile.